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Each Day is a New CreationGuidelines on Living a Life of Purpose
By Kathleen Stephany
Balboa PressCopyright © 2012 Kathleen Stephany
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLive Your Life with Purpose
I believe that it is an inherent human longing to experience joy and to have a sense that our time here on Earth matters somehow. Therefore, chapter 1 focuses on the importance of living your life with purpose by encouraging you to begin and end each day with reverence and prayer. Living in the here and now is more fulfilling than dwelling on the past or merely setting goals for the future. You will be challenged to view your whole life, rather than just your career, as your true calling and to realize that happiness cannot come from things but must begin on the inside. Also, cultivating gratitude is a means to experiencing more fulfillment and joy.
Part 1: Begin and End Your Day in Gratitude and Prayer
People say that what we're seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that is what we're really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will resonate with our own inner most being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. Joseph Campbell, Inspirational Author
To give life a deeper sense of purpose and meaning, I highly recommend that you begin and end your day with gratitude and prayer. It sets the tone for the day and helps you to focus on what is most important. Every morning, I say a prayer filled with thankfulness to our Creator. The prayer that I recite was adapted from Marianne Williamson's wonderful book Illuminata: A Return to Prayer. My personal prayer is short and easy to remember.
My Dear Creator, thank you for this brand new day. Today I ask that I may be set free from any mistakes I may have made yesterday. May I start today with a fresh beginning. Help me to become more like you and to shine your light, love, and forgiveness on everyone that I meet. Amen.
The notion that I can pray for freedom from any errors I made the day before brings me hope. The fact that the past is history and that it no longer has a hold on me gives me great relief. Yesterday, I may not have lived up to my expectations of what I wanted to achieve, or perhaps I said something I regretted saying or did something that was less than loving. Yet, because I am free from yesterday's shortcomings, I can begin again and try to do better. I can endeavor to make amends where I have caused harm.
To be set free from yesterday's actions does not mean that there are no consequences to those actions. Consequences can be our best teacher if we allow them to be. Those consequences demonstrate to us what does not work and also can steer us in the direction of positive change. I have a saying: "There is no such thing as error. The only error is not to have learned something from what transpired." My husband and I tried our best to teach our children through consequences, and for the most part, it worked. If they broke something deliberately, they paid for the item out of their mediocre allowance. If they made a decision that got them into trouble, we allowed the repercussions of their choice to teach them how not to behave. One of our teenage boys lent his car to a friend when he was at a party. His friend drove his car while drunk and got into an accident. Luckily no one was injured or killed, but the car was very badly damaged. The insurance company wouldn't pay for the vehicle repairs because the person who drove the car had been impaired, and my son, the owner, had been aware of that when he gave his friend the keys. It was a painful lesson for our son but one that he would never repeat again.
As we taught our children the importance of taking responsibility for their actions, we were also careful to emphasize that every person has value. People are not bad; they sometimes just make less than favorable choices. The good news is that people can improve their behavior if they really want to. In A Course in Miracles, the Foundation for Inner Peace teaches us that "every mistake is a call for love."
To ask for a fresh start is more than a plea to be forgiven for what happened the day before. I am also petitioning my Creator that the transgressions of yesterday be forgotten, as if they never occurred. That is the meaning of true forgiveness and freedom. I also accept that if we can ask our Creator to forgive us and if we in turn forgive ourselves for our mistakes, we will be more willing to pardon others' mistakes.
To be like our divine Creator, we must commit to emanating the light of love to everyone around us and to refrain from judging them. Being judgmental closes us off from whomever we criticize. Instead, we should practice the opposite of judgment, unconditional love, which is a crucial part of our eternal calling. If I love you unconditionally, I love you even when you fail to meet my expectations or when you have made a mistake. I love you in spite of your shortcomings. I love you no matter what you have done.
Greeting each day as a new creation is closely aligned with experiencing life with purpose. Everyone needs a reason to get up in the morning, and if you possess a sense of purpose, you greet your day with anticipation. The opposite is also true. When one's life is void of purpose, the rest of the day appears bleak. Often, people who suffer from depression have lost their zest for life, and it sometimes falls to us to help them rediscover it. As part of their clinical experience, my nursing students spend time caring for patients who suffer from mental illness. Little acts of kindness like listening to their patients' stories, teaching them new life skills, and spending time playing cards or doing puzzles with them is a way of connecting with patients and helping them to heal. To see the light of expectation reappear in the eyes of someone who previously seemed hopeless and shrouded in despair is a gentle display of magic.
Another magic thing about each day being a new creation is that we get to experience things that we have never experienced before. The knowledge that something new will happen today makes life adventurous and gives us enthusiasm. Yet often people get so caught up in daily routines that they forget to do what makes them feel most alive. When I counsel people who are depressed, I use an exercise to gently reactivate their psychological joy. I ask them to recall experiences from the past week that made them feel excited to be alive. If they can't think of anything that occurred in the past week, I request that they think back to a month ago or three months ago or as far back as the last year. If they can't come up with any examples of happier times, I recommend that they try new things. I don't mean that they should jump out of an airplane but that they should change things up a bit and do things differently. Trying something new to cook, going to a unique coffee place, or talking to new people is a good place to start. Challenging and supporting a person to step out of their comfort zone increases their self-confidence, and, like dominos, each new experience makes them more willing to try even more. This person gets on the path to a renewed sense of adventure and passion for life.
It is also wise to end your day with gratitude and heartfelt reflection. Express thanks for what went well that day and identify what you would like to do differently tomorrow if you are given the opportunity. I say the following prayer, adapted from lesson 232 in A Course in Miracles, before closing my eyes at night:
Dear Creator, as evening comes, let all my thoughts still be of you and of your love. And let me sleep sure of my safety and the safety of all whom I love.
Suggested Exercises for Part 1:
1. Begin each day with the words "thank you," or create your own prayer or affirmation that will remind you of the wonderful opportunities that await you.
2. If you know of someone who lacks purpose, reach out with love and acceptance or connect him or her to healing support networks in your community.
3. If you have trouble recalling when life was exciting, you may have lost your zest for life. To get it back, make an effort to try new things. If you feel depressed, reach out to someone for support or professional help.
4. End your day with gratitude and heartfelt reflection or a prayer.
Part 2: The Awakening
Life is no brief candle for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations. George Bernard Shaw, Irish Playwright and Laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature
At the beginning of my career as a nurse, I learned an amazing lesson from a dying patient: living a life of purpose means not taking our time on Earth for granted. My patient, Mary, was a forty-one-year-old woman who had lung cancer. She was ashen, her breathing was labored, and she seemed almost ready to die. I had just given her a bit more pain medication when she looked up at me with tears streaming down her face. She softly said, "It is over before you even know it. I just wish I knew that earlier in life. I would have lived my life differently."
I was unable to speak. I sat down in the chair beside Mary's bed and held her hand. She seemed so young and so alone. My eyes also filled with tears, but I tried to contain them. I wasn't sure if the tears were for my patient or for everyone who felt cheated by a shortened life. Within a few minutes, Mary took her last breath, and I felt thankful that I had not abandoned her at the time of her passing. I left work that day with a heart heavy with sadness. I tried to convince myself that I should not be so concerned with Mary's death. After all, I was only nineteen and I had my whole life still ahead of me. Besides, being exposed to death and dying were a part of being a nurse, so I told myself that I had better get a handle on it. My pep talk didn't work. Mary's final words haunted me. I showered, ate dinner, and thought I might read before calling it a night. On my bedside table was a self-help book I had received as a gift for completing my nursing training from a very close relative, who assured me that if I read it and learned to apply the principles set out by the author, I would be forever changed. The book was called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey. I dusted the book off, and instead of starting at the beginning, I opened to the middle hoping that I would find a few words that would comfort me. The book fell open to page 96, and I read the following passage:
As you walk down to the front of the room and look inside the casket, you suddenly come face to face with yourself. This is your funeral ... All these people have come to honor you, to express feelings of love and appreciation for your life ... Now think deeply. What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life?
In that very moment I understood what Mary's last words really meant: My life is not a dress rehearsal. It is the real play, and I had better be the star of the show. That night I did the exercises that Stephen Covey recommended and recorded in my journal how I wanted to be remembered when I left this world. Once I completed this task, I was finally able to fall asleep. Over the years I have changed a few items, but for the most part, I have been living out how I would like to be remembered when I die, and doing so has kept me on track. It has helped me to focus on what really matters and to go after what I want in life. I highly recommend that you read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Although it was written a long time ago, the wisdom of those seven habits is as relevant today as it was when Covey first wrote the book.
Suggested Exercise for Part 2:
1. In a journal or on an index card, write out a list of at least ten things that you want people to say about you when you die. Keep the list with you and revise it from time to time. Set your intention on becoming the person you have described on paper and living according to the legacy you would like to leave behind.
Part 3: Live in the Present
The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly. Gautama Buddha, Religious Leader and Founder of Buddhism
Living in the present moment instead of looking behind us to the past or ahead of us to the future isn't always so easy to do. However, to purposefully commit to what matters most, it is essential that we live in the here and now. We have to learn how to let go of the disappointments of yesterday and decide not to put off what is important or desirable until the future. Not one of us knows the day when we will leave this world, but leave we must, yet sometimes we act as though we have forever. We think there is always a future. But how do we know that for sure? How much time do we really have? I have known people who lived to be 95 and 102, but I have also seen many people die while still very young.
When we lie on our deathbed, what is important is not so much what we regret but what we didn't do. Last year two of my dear friends, Bev and John, passed away. Bev was sixty-seven and John had just turned seventy. They were a vibrant couple who saved every last penny to use when they retired. They were waiting to finish working to do the things they wanted to do and to travel to the places they had not yet seen. Unfortunately, shortly after they retired, they were both diagnosed with cancer, and they died within days of each other. I couldn't help but wonder if Bev and John should have spent some of their time and money living out their dreams when they were younger and healthier. It seemed like a shame that they left this world before doing what they longed to do.
Spring represents new life and new beginnings. One morning at the beginning of a lecture, I looked out the window to gaze upon the magnificence of nature waking up after the long sleep of winter. I mentioned to the class how much I love springtime. One of my students, Gwen, raised her hand to complain about how much work school was and how she just wanted school to be over. I wasn't sure what that comment had to do with spring, but Gwen set me straight when she said with anger in her voice, "I'll begin to like spring fifteen months from now when I graduate from nursing school." I didn't respond to her comment. Instead, I focused on what we needed to cover in class that day. However, I couldn't help but feel a bit sad about Gwen's comment. What if fifteen months from now never came? What if this was Gwen's last spring or the last spring for someone she loved? I reminded myself that she was still very young and perhaps didn't understand that there are no guarantees in life. I prayed that Gwen and the other nursing students would someday learn to enjoy the here and now.
Young children know how to live in the present, and we can learn from their example. There is an old saying, "You can't have your cake and eat it too." Who says? When my baby turned one, we let him eat his birthday cake on his very own. He experienced every aspect of his piece of cake, eating some, smearing a bit on his high-chair table, and dropping crumbs for the dog to munch on, to the dismay of some on-looking adults. He really loved his cake.
At Christmastime when our son was a toddler, it was so delightful to watch him doing what he did best: being playful, curious, and happy. We had purchased him fun things like a dump truck, building blocks, puzzles, and books, but he was totally uninterested in these gifts. Instead he spent the whole morning climbing in and out of the boxes and stuffing paper and ribbons into them. The Christmas wrappings were more fun to him than all of the gifts inside them.
Excerpted from Each Day is a New Creation by Kathleen Stephany Copyright © 2012 by Kathleen Stephany. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsAbout the Author....................xi
Part 1: Begin and End Your Day in Gratitude and Prayer....................1
Part 2: The Awakening....................5
Part 3: Live in the Present....................7
Part 4: Your Life Is Your Calling....................10
Part 5: Happiness Begins on the Inside....................15
Part 6: Gratitude Is the Key to Joy....................18
Part 1: Appreciate the Wonder of Nature....................21
Part 2: The Garden I Call Home....................24
Part 3: For the Love of Good Food....................27
Part 4: The Joy of Reading....................29
Part 5: Celebrate What Is Beautiful....................31
Part 6: Live Life with Fervor....................33
Part 1: The Importance of Human Touch....................35
Part 2: The Joy of Being a Parent....................37
Part 3: Acting Out Is a Desperate Cry for Help....................40
Part 4: Everyone Doesn't Have to Like You....................43
Part 5: You Are Not Upset for the Reason You Think....................46
Part 6: Say What You Need to Say....................49
Part 1: Accept Change....................51
Part 2: Your Attitude Is Everything....................53
Part 3: The Power of Our Words....................55
Part 4: Make the Law of Attraction Work for You....................59
Part 5: Reach for the Stars....................63
Part 6: The Gift of Humor....................66
Part 1: Change the Negative into Something Positive....................68
Part 2: How to Survive a Crisis....................76
Part 3: Give Yourself Permission to Grieve....................78
Part 4: Have the Courage to Heal from the Past....................81
Part 5: Replace Hatred and Guilt with Forgiveness....................84
Part 6: Lend Another Person Some of Your Hope....................87
Part 7: Reach Out for Help from Your Creator....................91
Part 1: Look for the Good in Others....................95
Part 2: Be Kind....................98
Part 3: The Meaning of Compassion....................102
Part 4: How Love Is Able to Transform....................104
Part 5: Love with All Your Heart....................107
Part 6: Be a Peacemaker....................115
Part 7: Your Life Is Your Story....................117